The Last of Us premiered on HBO Max on January 15th. Based on the critically acclaimed video game, the show follows the main characters Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal, The Mandalorian) and Ellie Williams (Bella Ramsey, Game of Thrones) as they find their way from a quarantine zone in Boston, Massachusetts to a hospital on the West coast in an attempt to find the Fireflies, an organization looking for a cure to the devastating cordyceps virus.
The pilot, a quick-paced hour and twenty minutes introduces viewers to the world on the day of infection in 2003 and picks them back up twenty years later in a society trying to survive. While quite faithful to the video game source material, original creator Neil Druckmann and show co-creator Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) take liberties to ensure that the story is as grounded and entertaining as possible for fans of the game and new fans of the show.
When the show was announced over two years ago, audiences had two major questions: How would this show stack up to the beloved 2013 video game, and will a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested show survive in a world where the genre has been left in the dust?
What sets The Last of Us apart from its apocalyptic predecessors like The Walking Dead is its immediate desire to teach the viewer how likely it is for this apocalypse to occur. The spread of the cordyceps fungus is a haunting evolution, with climate change as a backing argument as to how it made the jump from ants to humans.
Fans of the game were surprised to learn that the telltale spores that made the game a more claustrophobic and surreal experience would be replaced by tendrils in the show. The idea is not new to Naughty Dog, the developers behind the video game, who had played around with the idea of tendrils as an alternate way to spreading the fungus. As those who lived during the Covid-19 pandemic can attest, spores would make transmission easy and infection unavoidable, hence Druckman and Mazin’s decision to change it to the more physical tendrils–extremities of the cordyceps that take anywhere from 5 minutes to 24 hours to spread depending on the site of infection. The transmission is thus more visible and yet invisible, lending itself to alternate ways of storytelling and tension within the world.
Viewers were also treated to the familial chemistry between Pascal and Ramsey, both on and off screen. Press tours to raise awareness for The Last of Us found many audience members and interviewers alike in love with the banter and affection that Pascal and Ramsey expressed to each other. This led many fans to be hopeful of how Joel and Ellie would interact on-screen. The duo is central to the story, and they represent many fans’ favorite characters both in the original game and in The Last of Us Part II which came out in 2020. If they didn’t have chemistry, the show simply wouldn’t work. Pascal and Ramsey were filling in large shoes, left by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, respectively, who had been the original voices and motion capture of Joel and Ellie in the video games. However, Pascal and Ramsey were quick to dispel any worries. Many viewers found themselves entranced by the complexities of Pascal’s rough yet loyal Joel and Ramsey’s sardonic yet endearing Ellie. Heavily praised for their performances, it makes fans’ pre-showing anxieties seem ridiculous.
By the time this article has been submitted for publishing, viewers will have seen four episodes of the show’s total nine. Critics of the show have much to say, from raving about the casting to the plot, with Hollywood staples such as Rotten Tomatoes giving the show a 97% critics rating and a 96% audience rating. One could safely say that fans are pleased with The Last of Us as a whole. Fans of the game, entering into January, took to social media platforms like TikTok to show their The Last of Us pride and excitement. Following the pilot, a rush of appreciation flooded social media. Fans tagging Pascal, Ramsey, Druckmann, and Mazin in reviews and cosplays showed that the fanbase for a 10 year old game was not going anywhere–and that they were ready for the long, hard journey ahead.
From his Instagram on January 16th, creator Neil Druckmann posted, “Thank you for all the kind words. We read everything!”